It was hard not to write this month about Rudy Giuliani and his ongoing rant about President Obama not loving America, and about his attempt to be “relevant” again by appealing to the most racist elements in our country. It reminded me that we spent 8 years surviving under the Mayoralty of a bombastic buffoon—an embarrassment to NYC who got away with some sort of hero label because he maintained his cool during and after 9/11. If you think there are divisions in our City now, they are nothing compared to the divisions stirred by Rudy and his chauffeur-turned Police Commissioner-turned felon Bernard Kerik. But I will resist, because I know that my neighbors overwhelmingly dismiss him as a jerk.
But I do want to write again about our Governor, Andrew Cuomo. Andrew is slicker than Rudy Giuliani, but the two have a lot in common, which may be why Cuomo has refused to denounce Giuliani for his comments about Obama. Andrew Cuomo may characterize himself as the Governor of working New Yorkers, but his campaign contributions show that he is the Governor of the very wealthy.
Andrew Cuomo doesn’t like to be criticized, and he certainly doesn’t like those who disagree with him. It is well known in political circles that if you cross Cuomo, you may get a piece of your body chopped off. The fear is palpable. Rudy Giuliani actually had a better relationship with public employee unions than Cuomo does. He didn’t see himself as an educator, and actually appointed some good educators to run the NYC school system.
Cuomo spent a good portion of his recent State of the State address talking about education. He talked about the school system failing kids because the system didn’t hold teachers up to high enough standards. He wants more evaluations, based on more testing. And he wants to pull more money out of the system and give it to charter operators, who, he would have you believe, are doing a better job than the City’s Department of Education.
What he didn’t talk about, however, was about what all experts say is the problem with schools in NY State’s urban areas: lack of funding, overcrowded classrooms, lack of resources, and lack of ongoing training.
Nine years ago the New York State Court of Appeals decided a case called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, in which a judge, after a long trial, ruled that New York State’s school children were not, as a group, receiving something mandated in the NY State Constitution: an Adequate Education. Not a superlative education, just an adequate one. In order to settle the case, and stave off a constitutional crisis where Judges would be ordering the funding of the school budget by the legislature, Cuomo’s predecessors, Governor Spitzer and Governor Patterson, negotiated a deal to bring the funding up to the “adequate” level. The “Great Recession” then hit and along with it went school funding. School funding actually went down and not up. No one but a small band of diehards in Class Size Matters said anything.
But now the State Budget is flush. Tax revenues are up, and we are running a multibillion dollar surplus. Revenue from the tobacco settlement is putting millions more in the Governor’s and the legislature’s hands. But the Governor’s budget comes nowhere near the proper funding level decreed by the Court. The Alliance for Quality Education, a wonderful advocacy group, has created a website to show exactly how much additional funding each school would get if the Campaign for Fiscal Equity levels were reached. The website is called www.howmuchnyshasrobbed.nyc.com I looked up the two principal schools serving the Central and West Village; here is what I found:
PS 41 has 764 students—its budget is short $2,037,523
PS 3 has 759 students—its budget is short $2,024,189
Just think how fabulous those two schools would be with an infusion of that much money.
But the Governor’s budget is rigged to require more tests, more teacher evaluations, and more charter schools (which, as a group, have NOT outperformed the non-charter public school.) And the Governor has spent his political capital attacking the Teachers Union, and blaming teacher tenure for the problems with the school system. He says he wants to attract the “best and the brightest” but won’t try to attract them with promises of a stable job, and the prospect of a career. He doesn’t reach out to the teachers and their unions as partners, but treats them as enemies.
Why? We get back to the issue of control. Governor Cuomo wants to be in control, and unions interfere with that. And it’s not just the teachers; all of the State Employee Unions are up in arms about the Governor’s anti-labor program.
Now’s where I get to do my monthly shout out to our Assembly Woman, Deborah Glick. She sees herself as a champion of education. Shelly Silver, before being indicted, had just appointed his loyalist lap dog Glick to be Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, which was to be added to her Higher Education Chairmanship. The new speaker, Carl Heastie—who Deborah either didn’t vote for or voted for in the end reluctantly because she wanted Silver to stay—took that chairmanship away.
But without Silver’s foot on her neck, Deborah is now free to champion the increase in education funds mandated by the courts. I am waiting to see if she takes on the Governor, if she fights for the millions of dollars which belong in PS 3 and PS 41, and in the numerous other schools in her district. And if she can’t do it, or won’t do it, she should tell us soon and retire to the country house she spends her summers at—with her 35 year pension (City and State service) and lifetime medical. Then we can elect a champion to get the money that the kids in this community, and in all NY communities, need.
Arthur Schwartz is the Male Democratic District Leader for Greenwich Village.